Before becoming the nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln spent nearly 25 years practicing law in Illinois. Lincoln worked on cases both big and small which took him to a number of different cities and small towns across the state. Today, many of these sites are open to the public as historical attractions for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Lincoln’s journey to becoming the leader of the United States.
To commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the Illinois Office of Tourism has teamed up with the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition to help visitors explore Lincoln’s life as a lawyer, with this two-day trip itinerary through Eastern Illinois:
Day 1 – Charleston
Start your day near the city of Charleston, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Sara Bush Lincoln, were among the very early settlers in the Charleston Area. Just a short drive from Charleston, you can step back in time to the rural life of 1840s Illinois at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, where Lincoln would often come back to visit his parents while he was working as a young lawyer in Springfield. Today, you will find a living history farm developed around the two-room cabin owned by the Lincoln family, as well as a Visitors Center full of exhibit galleries to help you learn more about farm life and the Lincoln family.
After soaking in all there is to see at the Lincoln Log Cabin, hit the road and head for beautiful Champaign-Urbana. A first stop as you look for Lincoln the Lawyer is the Champaign County Historical Archives, located at the Urbana Free Library. Here you will find an extensive historical collection of records from Champaign County, Illinois and the states east of the Mississippi.
From there, head to the Champaign County History Museum. Housed in the historic Cattle Bank, you will be able to look through over 10,000 artifacts related to the people, businesses and organizations important to the County’s history. Just a few blocks from the History Museum you will find the Champaign County Courthouse. While the current courthouse was built in 1901, it sits on the site of the courthouse where Lincoln appeared as a lawyer in his 8th Judicial days. Head inside to explore the special exhibit Abraham Lincoln: A Large Presence in a Small Town, which highlights Lincoln’s lasting legacy within the Champaign-Urbana community.
Start off your afternoon with a stop at Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet. This spot will give you a glimpse into prairie life in East-Central Illinois in 19th and early 20th centuries through an extensive collection that includes a full exhibit on the story of Abraham Lincoln, the prairie lawyer.
A short drive down the road will bring you to the Piatt County Museum featuring artifacts from throughout the county’s history. Nearby, you’ll find Historic State Street of Monticello which was once a major business hub for central Illinois, including the incorporation of the Monticello Railroad Company.
Monticello is known for its strong, historic ties to the railroad industry and there is no better place to explore that important role than the Monticello Railway Museum. While Lincoln later became known for expanding the railroads during the Civil War, he often rode the rails through Illinois as he traveled along the 8th Judicial Circuit. For the true Lincoln experience, you can hop aboard the Museum’s 7-mile ride on a vintage railroad train.
Monticello is also home to Bryant Cottage, a must-visit site for the true Lincoln historians. According to family lore, on July 29, 1858, Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met at Bryant Cottage to discuss their upcoming “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” which would go down in history as some of the most important of the Civil War Era. In addition to its Lincoln ties, the cottage is a great place to tour to get a feel for middle-class life in mid-19th century Central Illinois.
Day 2- Danville
Begin day two of your journey through Lincoln’s time as a lawyer in historic Danville. The Vermilion County Museum is located in the reconstructed early Danville Courthouse where Lincoln tried over 200 cases. Inside, you can make a visit to the Museum’s special reproduction of the law office of Danville attorney, Ward Hill Lamon, who shared the office with Lincoln during his time with the 8th Judicial Circuit.
Also in Danville, The Fithian House was the home of prominent 19th century Danville physician, Dr. William Fithian, and a place visited often by Lincoln. Tour the home to stand at the second story balcony, the very spot where Lincoln was known to have given a speech back in 1858. If you are looking to learn even more about the families that Lincoln came across in his day, plan to stop by the Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society to see local records and access hundreds of thousands of area family histories
Another historical Danville home is The Lamon House, the oldest framed residence in Danville. The original owners were related to Lincoln’s area law partner, Ward Hill Lamon, who also went on to serve as Lincoln’s bodyguard during the Civil War.
Head to Paris, Illinois to check out the history of the town, starting with the Edgar County Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse is surrounded by a number of markers telling the stories of Edgar County history and even has the Statue of Justice sitting atop the “wedding cake tower” high above the courthouse.
Just one block from the courthouse, make a stop at Paris Arts Center. Located in the historic Alexander home, Lincoln visited this exact spot many times in his day, as he served as the family’s attorney. The final stop on your trip along Lincoln’s time on the 8th Judicial Circuit, is the Edgar County Historical Complex. This complex includes the historic Arthur house, built by Henry Clay Moss. Here you will find a variety of genealogical resources, including many related to Mr. Lincoln.
– Illinois Office of Tourism